Monday, February 17, 2020

Plaza Italia, the heart of the Chilean protest

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JOAO PINA FOR "THE WORLD"

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Posted on January 17, 2020, 2:26 p.m., updated at 5:50 a.m.

This graffiti, meaning "fight" in Spanish, is visible on a building near Plaza Italia.
This graffiti, meaning "fight" in Spanish, is visible on a building near Plaza Italia. JOAO PINA FOR "THE WORLD"

After midday, when a dry heat descends on Santiago, the capital of Chile, the plaza Italia is filled with clusters of demonstrators. Many have their faces covered – these are the hooded, the "hooded", accused by the government of Sebastián Piñera, the president of the right, to be the main troublemakers. Equipped with fire extinguishers, they throw themselves into the middle of the cars and emit thick white smoke, more photogenic than that, translucent but formidable, of the police's tear gas canisters.

The carabineros have drawn so much from the start of the dispute in mid-October 2019, that when a gust of wind lifts the earth, bare since the paving stones were torn down, that is enough to release hints of gas that catch on your throat.

Protesters chant in the square "Chile desperto" (Chile has woken up!) or intone "El pueblo unido jamas sera vencido" (the united people will never be defeated), a song symbol of the resistance to the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet, who took power after the military putsch of September 11, 1973, supported by the United States. The general's betrayal, followed by the suicide of the socialist president Salvador Allende entrenched in the bombed palace of La Moneda, ended almost forty years of republican democracy.

On this graffiti, one can read: "They want us to be blind. "
On this graffiti, one can read: "They want us to be blind. »JOAO PINA FOR" THE WORLD "

There followed almost seventeen years of dictatorship which, on the pretext of eliminating communism, suppressed all democratic institutions in the country. The parliament was dissolved, the stadiums transformed into places of concentration, the opposition parties banned, torture institutionalized.

The dictatorship officially ended in 1990, but, thirty years later, the unprecedented scale of the current protest, already preceded by student movements, especially in 2011, during the first term of Sebastián Piñera, then demonstrations against the private system retreats in 2016, chaired by Michelle Bachelet (Socialist Party), illustrates Chile's difficulties in achieving its democratic transition.

The legacy of the Pinochet dictatorship

The huge gatherings on Plaza Italia that marked this Chilean "awakening" daily are now concentrated on Friday evenings. Thousands of demonstrators then converge on this nerve center of the capital, displaying banners in colors as varied as their demands: yellow to protest against the companies administering pension funds (AFP), a retirement system that operates on the principle of individual capitalization, the green scarves of activists for the right to abortion, the flag of the indigenous Mapuche people…

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